Human rights monitors at the UN said the use of a snake during a police interrogation of a suspected thief reflected “a widespread pattern of violence” by Indonesian security forces in the ethnically distinct Melanesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
“The police are undertaking an investigation into the incident and have stated that disciplinary action will be taken against the individuals in accordance with the rules,” said Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir.
“This was the action of individuals and is against the national police’s rules and regulations.”
A video this month showed police in Papua draping a snake around the neck of a suspect to persuade him to confess to stealing mobile phones.
The man’s hands are behind his back as he screams as an officer pushes a snake towards his face and threatens to put it down his trousers.
The UN panel of five rights rapporteurs said torture was often used against indigenous Papuans and human rights defenders.
“This latest incident is symptomatic of the deeply entrenched discrimination and racism that indigenous Papuans face, including by Indonesian military and police,” the panel said.
“We urge the government to take urgent measures to prevent the excessive use of force by police and military officials involved in law enforcement in Papua,” the statement said. “This includes ensuring those who have committed human rights violations against the indigenous population of Papua are held to account.”
The experts said they were also “deeply concerned about what appears to be a culture of impunity and general lack of investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Papua”.
Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia after a controversial 1969 referendum.
Guardian journalist George Monbiot said 1,026 men were seized by the Indonesian authorities in 1969, some of their families were taken hostage and they were told to vote in favour of occupation or their tongues would be ripped out. One man who refused was apparently shot dead. The rest unanimously voted in favour of joining Indonesia.
“That is the sole basis on which Indonesia claims proprietary over West Papua,” Monbiot, the author of Poisoned Arrows about the province, told the BBC.
Papua contains the internationally controlled giant copper and gold Grasberg mine (pictured), which contributes heavily to central government income, meaning Jakarta is unwilling to discuss Papuan autonomy.
The jewel in the crown: the Grasberg mine in Papua. Picture credit: YouTube